A recent conversation with a friend wrestling with how to respond to someone brought this thought to mind: The default is always compassion. 
No fixing.
No judgment.
No caretaking.

Understanding, appreciating, empathizing, and honoring that their feelings are real for them.

Stanford Medicine’s Center for Compassion and Altruism describes compassion as a “multi-textured response to pain, sorrow, and anguish. It includes kindness, empathy, generosity and acceptance.”

While Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine describes compassion this way: “Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.”

Which raised a question – if compassion is “suffering together” and the motivation is to “relieve that suffering,” how do you have compassion for others while being compassionate for Self and not falling into people-pleasing, caretaking, and fixing?

With this thought in mind, I consulted Brené Brown’s book, “Atlas of the Heart,” where she wrote, “What’s the most effective way to be in connection with and in service to someone who is struggling, without taking on their issues as your own?”

In Brené’s words: “Compassion is not a practice of “better than” or “I can fix you”—it’s a practice based in the beauty and pain of shared humanity.” She continues with a quote from Pema Chödrön’s book, ‘The Places that Scare you’ “…only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”

According to Dr. Kristen Neff, a leading expert and researcher on compassion, “common humanity is a key component in what connects us. When we fail to recognize that we are not alone in our struggles, we increase our feelings of isolation and self-pity.” 

A popular conversation among women is frustration with a partner’s lack of compassion. One friend solved this by offering “compassion training” to her willing partner. On the other hand, I got mad and blurted out angrily, “how about compassion?!!!” 

During the many years I used busyness to numb my complicated emotions, I did find it challenging to “hold space” for someone else’s concerns, struggles, and pain. I would quickly feel overwhelmed and need to “do more.” I responded with “research” to support my “advice” on how to “fix it” for the other person… which translates to “let me fix this for you, so I will feel better.”

Fixing isn’t about the other person; it’s about yourself.

To this day, no one has ever said, “Hey Suzy, I’m having a bad day, challenging experience, terrible circumstances – would you please fix this for me?” 

I’m not sure how I missed that one, but I did, and I know I’m not alone! ?

Here’s a question to consider… how would you like compassion expressed? Have you shared what compassion means to you with your significant other (or your go-to person)?

Women often expect their partners to respond in a certain way – it’s almost as if we think they have ESP. THEY. DO. NOT. Ask for what you need – let your partner know how you’d like compassion expressed when you fall, have a bad day, aren’t feeling well, or have a challenging situation. 

You may also want to consider asking if they feel capable of offering compassion (remember to describe what this means for you). If your question is met with a glazed look or turning up the sound on the ball game, you have few choices. 

#1: Recognize that they may not have met their darkness (see #5).

#2: Compassion can be uncomfortable or simply a foreign concept – so, as my friend did, “training” may be a good move. 

#3: Ask for what you need. My go-to is “I need a hug,” or I’ll say, “I need to talk about something, but I don’t need you to fix it; just listen.”

#4: If you’re not in a partnership, could you find a “compassion buddy?” Someone you have a pre-agreement with to offer compassion when needed.

#5: How can you nurture yourself and practice self-compassion when there’s no one capable or available?

Dr. Kristin Neff also says that we enhance our ability to feel compassion for others by improving our self-compassion. Compassion for others, in turn, increases our sense of connection, thereby decreasing feelings of sadness, depression, and anxiety. We also become less judgmental of our feelings and behaviors.

Compassion is a balm for the soul!

What does compassion mean to you? Share your comment below. 

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